GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Julius Sermonia of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
The last time Julius Sermonia was on Broadway, he was barely out of his teens and had more experience performing at Disney World than in musical theater. Now a veteran of national tours in the U.S. as well as Canada’s regional theaters, Sermonia is back on Broadway in the revival of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Directed by Des McAnuff, this production of Jesus Christ Superstar originated last year at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where Sermonia has been performing in classic musicals the last five years. Though Sermonia’s career began in the United States, he’s worked exclusively in Canada for nearly a decade. Superstar marks his return to Broadway since he was in the final cast of Cats in 2000. Both musicals are by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Sermonia made his Broadway debut in Cats on Christmas Day 1999, following a year on the show’s tour; he played Mistoffelees in both companies. After Cats closed on Broadway, Sermonia performed for nearly two years on the national tour of Contact, the Tony-winning dance musical created by director-choreographer Susan Stroman. “I love the way she directs a dancer,” Sermonia says, “’cause she enjoys directing dancers who are actors too.” That jibed with how he’d been trained by his childhood dance teacher Allain Lupien at the Canadian Dance Company in Mississauga, the town outside Toronto where he grew up. “He taught us there is always acting in dance,” says Sermonia. “He implemented a lot of characters in the choreography, so I grew up always putting a character on, whatever the dance was going to be.”
Sermonia took classes nearly every day and represented the Canadian Dance Company in competitions right through high school. He remembers a poster that was always hanging up in the studio—of Cats, the show that would eventually launch his career. But when he was first cast on the Cats tour, he says, “I really didn’t know anything about musical theater and [being on] the road.” He’d been performing for two years at Disney World as one of the Kids of the Kingdom—who sang and danced in revues with Mickey, Minnie et al—and his career goal at that point was dancing in the music industry out in L.A. When he flew up to New York for the Cats audition, he left his sheet music on the plane, so he had to sing “Happy Birthday.” As for the rest of the audition, “it was like A Chorus Line,” he recalls. “We were at the Broadhurst Theatre and they lined us up 10 at a time, and you had to go up there and state your name and do a double pirouette and stand back in line. Then they’d call: ‘Girl in the green…boy in the blue…Hawaiian kid…everyone else, thank you very much.’ I was ‘Hawaiian kid.’”
Actually, he’s Filipino. Sermonia was born in Manila and lived in the Philippines till he was 5. His parents emigrated to Canada when he was 2, but left him and his older sister with grandparents while they got settled in their new country. When he joined them three years later, he had a baby brother.
That brother, Jason, is also in Jesus Christ Superstar, making his Broadway debut. The Sermonias play brothers in the show, the fisherman apostles James (Julius) and John (Jason). They live together as well, and they know that most siblings probably couldn’t spend all that time together. “It’s rare…special,” says Julius. “We get along so well, and we know each other well enough to know when not to bother each other.” They’ve worked together multiple times at Stratford and also auditioned for projects that one got and the other didn’t, but even that hasn’t been a problem. “It’s cheesy cliché, but we just wish the best for each other,” says Julius, noting that they’re different types of dancers. “He’s a powerhouse, more of the athletic dancer; I’m more stylized.”
The brothers have been dancing together since Julius was about 10 and Jason 6 and their mother enrolled them at the Canadian Dance Company after seeing an ad for the dance studio promising “boys dance for free the first year.” Their older sister, April, originally took dance classes with them, but she later dropped out; their younger sister, Genny, eventually joined them in the studio, and she too is now a professional, performing most recently on the Mary Poppins tour. (Jason’s wife-to-be is also in the biz: Shortly after moving to New York in February, he got engaged to Canadian actress Melanie McInenly.)